A perfect storm in the Higher Education sector that has led many highly respected institutions to take a long hard look at their strategy, their brand and their wider communications activities.
A global marketplace
Both undergraduate and post-graduate students have much greater choice in where to study and an increasing number opt to study abroad to broaden their experience. As a result, domestic and international students are courted by universities from across the US, Europe, Asia and the UK in what is a lucrative and dynamic global marketplace.
A strategic national asset
Higher Education has long been a strength in the UK and we have a global reputation for world-class teaching and research. However, other governments recognise the vital link between the strength of their Higher Education sector and the health and long-term competitiveness of their national economies, and are working to reduce the UK’s competitive edge.
Demand for talent
Successful academics are in the business of securing funding for their research programmes and the brightest talent is highly mobile, moving around the globe to take up invitations from the most ambitious and welcoming universities. Increasingly, research funding moves with the individual.
Rising student expectations
With degrees costing tens of thousands of pounds, students operate with a customer mindset and have rising expectations. They are looking for a rounded experience with high quality education, facilities, accommodation and support. They also want to live and study in a place with added benefits such as history, culture, sport, entertainment and natural beauty.
A focus on employability
Few students now can afford the luxury of learning for learning’s sake. With high levels of student debt behind them they need and expect a good job at the end of their studies. Universities must provide clearer pathways into employment through strong links with industry and demonstrate consistent success.
Changing nature of education
The way in which knowledge and skills are taught is changing rapidly as students are looking for more immersive, hands-on experiences that puts them at the centre of their own unique learning journey.
Flexible, digital solutions
There is a need to reflect the online and at-my-convenience nature of 21st century living, learning and working. Doing this will not only deliver the blended on and offline experience which students expect, but also opens up new revenue opportunities in the delivery of online learning to new audiences.
Pace and change of technology
We are all living in an increasingly digital world where the pace of change is accelerating and success requires individuals and organisations to master a complex array of technologies, systems and processes in order to thrive.
Rise of social media
There is an open and dynamic conversation orchestrated by students that cannot be controlled, but provides an entirely new way to engage with hard to reach audiences. How do you present a consistent message when brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room?
Growing importance of university rankings
It’s impossible to avoid the harsh spotlight of national and international league tables that try to distil the entire value of a complex Higher Education institution down to a single number or set of numbers.
Uncertain funding environment
In the UK, political and economic turmoil has increased uncertainty in a sector that relies upon long-term funding cycles for stability.
All universities face the pressure of rising operating costs alongside the need to invest in outdated facilities to bring them up to current standards. It’s a difficult and relentless equation to balance.
Against this backdrop, the most forward-thinking Universities are aligning their business and brand strategies to ensure that have a clear and compelling offer to both undergraduate and post-graduate students, academic and professional staff, research and business partners and future employers.
Rebecca is the founder and Managing Director of rbl. An experienced brand and marketing professional, Rebecca has spent over 30 years helping clients to build, design and manage their brands.